The Lifeboat- Charlotte Rogan

the lifeboat

“It is 1914, and Europe is on the brink of war. When a magnificent ocean liner suffers a mysterious explosion en route to New York City, Henry Winter manages to secure a place in a lifeboat for his new wife Grace. But the survivors quickly realize the boat is over capacity and could sink at any moment. For any to live, some must die.”

This was a very intriguing read. I actually picked this book up because  there was a buy one get one half price offer. I had already found one book, so my only priority was “does it have a sticker on it?” The problem with these kind of deals is usually that they lure in you in by offering one book that you really want in the deal, then force you choose from a less than stellar selection of other books. I’ll admit I kind of thought this was the case with “The Lifeboat”.  I also always slightly wary about books which are featured in things like “The Waterstones Book Club” (which this one is) but I’m starting to accept that this may just be a silly prejudice I need to get over, as it appears to be preventing me from reading some really brilliant books!

Anyway, I tentatively started reading “The Lifeboat”, then found myself hooked. Rogan very cleverly allocates one day to each chapter, which tricked my mind into thinking I was covering a lot more ground than I was because it was so fast paced. As a result I found myself constantly thinking “I’ll just read one more day”over and over again. In addition to this, each chapter seemed to open up more mysteries than the previous one, until the weight of them seemed to be the real reason the lifeboat is riding low in the water. This meant I had to keep reading to see if any of these mysteries would be solved. Rogan’s sense of scene is also amazing, she gets across the isolation of being alone at sea whilst also managing to portray the cloying claustrophobia of being trapped on a tiny lifeboat with complete strangers, seeming to prove that “alone, together” is not as oxymoronic as you’d first think.

The book is written entirely from the point of view of Grace Winter, a woman who was travelling first class on board the ship. As all the action is seen from Grace’s point of view this heightens the sense of mystery, as the reader almost becomes a co-conspirator in her private speculations and is completely excluded from the thoughts and reasoning of any of the other passengers. From the very beginning I was suspicious about what Grace’s agenda was. This was a feeling that was built upon as the novel progressed and she began to seem an ambiguous ,almost calculating protagonist.

It was very interesting to read a novel with a narrator I didn’t fully trust. I think it’s so easy to get swept along and accept everything the narrative voice tells us without question, and the thing is…I did want to trust Grace because she seemed nice. I think this is one of the things Rogan was trying to explore, from the very beginning it is clear that brutality is what has saved the people in the lifeboat, i.e. they got in the boat at the expense of others. You push this aside, however, because individually  all the characters seem nice. The reality is, thought, that they do not try to save anyone except themselves and as weaker members die the communal sense of relief is at times quite shocking. Rogan really strips away the niceties and tries to expose human nature at it’s most base. We all like to think that at times of real crisis we would act heroically, but what Rogan exposes is that for every 1 hero, there are hundreds of people who literally abandon ship and save themselves.

I really enjoyed this book, one of the quotes of “praise” in the front of the book states that it is “a thought provoking debut about life, death and survival…morally complex and devastatingly intense” and I think this sums it up better than I can! Perhaps what makes Grace so abstruse is that she has an unashamed sense of self preservation,at the expense of all others. It’s really hard to explain this without giving any spoilers, so I need you to go and read this book to find out what I mean. Be prepared though, almost nothing is resolved in this book. It’s like a can of worms which leaves you with more questions than it does answers! 

The Vanishing Act- Mette Jakobsen

vanishing act

“This is a story about a snow-covered island you won’t find on any map. It’s the story of a girl, Minou. A year ago, her mother walked out into the rain and never came back. It’s about a magician and a priest and a dog called No Name. It’s about a father’s endless hunt for the truth. It’s about a dead boy who listens, and Minou’s search for her mother’s voice. It’s a story of how even the most isolated places have their own secrets. It’s a story you will never forget.”

I initially picked up this book because of the cover; I know that this is some kind of cardinal sin, but it’s true. There was something eye-catching to me about the simple drawing and the blue background, and so I picked it up. I then walked around the shop with it for a while just in case something better caught my eye, it came down to a choice of two, long story short I left with this one…cover art won the day. Why am I telling you this? Well, to try and explain my feelings about this book. I’m conflicted. When I picked it up I was intrigued by the blurb (which I’ve written above), but I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the book, and I like to be sure I’m going to enjoy a book before I spend my money on it!

As it turns out, it did take me a while to warm up to The Vanishing Act; the style of writing felt stilted and annoying but the more I read, the more it began to feel refreshingly different. The book is written from Minou’s perspective and restricted to her comprehension of the world. This is, at times, very frustrating. It felt like secrets were being deliberately being kept from me, and any one who knows me will appreciate how much I dislike being kept in suspense.  The truth seemed to hover in the margins of this book without ever making its way into the text itself and I wanted to scream at Minou for failing to see what I felt seemed so obvious. What soon became apparent, however, is that I was expecting to much of Minou. I was trying to make her an omniscient narrator when what she is really, is a twelve year old girl who is dealing with massive loss. Mette Jakobsen really captures Minou’s naivety and innocence without making the writing absurd and I think this is one of the strengths of the novel, that, and her ability to create a sense of sadness that is not too cloying.

So did I enjoy The Vanishing Act? It’s hard to say, it made me think about lots of things- and I enjoyed that. It was different from any of my safe bet books- and I enjoyed that. I suppose it comes down to this question, “do I want you to read this book?”, and the answer is yes!